UI Transportation Technology Center Receives National Grant for Research

Thursday, September 19 2013

Tomorrow’s roadway demands, reducing crashes among top projects

MOSCOW, Idaho – Whether investigating vehicle crash risks, making streets safer for pedestrians or engineering low-emission snowmobiles, researchers in the University of Idaho’s National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology design the transportation systems of the future.

The institute, known as NIATT, received a boost this month with a $570,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The award is part of a $3.4 million grant to the Northwest’s USDOT-funded Regional University Transportation Center led by the University of Washington.

The grant allows the two-year-old regional center, which brings together five universities in Idaho, Washington, Alaska and Oregon, to continue addressing the needs of state transportation departments, cities and citizens across the Northwest, said NIATT director Karen Den Braven, a UI mechanical engineering professor.

“The work we are doing has been recognized as important,” Den Braven said. “This will strengthen our collaboration and the relationship among the universities and the state departments of transportation.”

One new project seeks to help cities better collect data about how bicyclists and pedestrians use city streets and sidewalks.

“The point of the project is to help engineers and planners do better transportation planning for walking and bicycling so that citizens can have more viable transportation choices,” said Mike Lowry, an assistant professor of civil engineering at UI, who leads a team of UI and University of Washington researchers on the project.

The team is testing new ways of counting bicyclists and pedestrians, including a pressure tube that can distinguish whether a car, bike or person crossed it and a Bluetooth sensor that can count passersby if they have Bluetooth-enabled devices.

A third technology uses Kinect, designed for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming system, to detect people’s movement. 

“We are adapting Kinect to detect direction, speed, and approximate size, child or adult, of a group of people walking or biking.” Lowry said. “Existing bicycle and pedestrian video technology cannot do that.”

Continuing NIATT projects supported by the grant include adapting traffic signals for physically impaired pedestrians, investigating methods to reduce crash risks on rural highways and educating teen drivers about the dangers of distracted driving. The grant also helps fund the internationally competitive Clean Snowmobile Challenge Team, which brings together UI engineering students to build quieter, lower-emission snowmobiles.

The grant helps NIATT continue its emphasis on working across state borders.

“The regional transportation center gives the Northwest access to the best of multiple institutions,” Den Braven said. “Chances are, we have the expertise somewhere.”

NIATT also leads a USDOT Tier 1 University Transportation Center, one of only 10 nationwide. For more information about NIATT, visit www.webpages.uidaho.edu/niatt/.


Media Contact: Tara Roberts, University Communications, (208) 885-7725, troberts@uidaho.edu

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